Food, glorious food
Ekev | Deuteronomy 7:12-11:25
Someone once said that you can explain almost all the Jewish holidays with a single sentence: They tried to kill us, we survived, let’s eat! Okay, it’s really not that simple, but there’s no doubt that food is an important part of Jewish life. And it’s not only the traditional “Jewish food” — chicken soup, brisket, pastrami, kugel, and gefilte fish. Today we have Chinese, Italian, Indian, French, sushi and barbecue, tacos and pizza, dim sum and beef jerky — all prepared under kosher supervision.
Jews really do love food, so it’s hardly surprising that when Moshe speaks to the people who are about to enter the land God promised them and wants to convey just how magnificent God’s gift is, he speaks about food. “For the Lord your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with streams and springs and fountains issuing from plain and hill; a land of wheat and barley, of vines, figs, and pomegranates; a land of olive trees and honey; a land where you may eat food without stint, where you will lack nothing….”
Think about it — we chafe under the restrictions of eight days of Pesach and fantasize about pizza and bagels. Just imagine the joy of people who had lived on manna for 40 years being told they would soon be able to eat as much as they wanted of all sorts of fresh and tasty produce.
And then, at the end of this passage, Moshe says, “V’ahalta v’savata u’veirahta et Hashem Elohecha” — “When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Lord your God for the good land which He has given you.” These familiar words are found in the second paragraph of Birkat Hamazon, the grace after meals. And, in fact, it is from these words that the rabbis derive the obligation to say Birkat Hamazon: First eat your fill and then, after the meal, say this blessing and give thanks to God.
In the wilderness, the Israelites could not help but be conscious of who it was who provided their sustenance, as they ate manna and drank from the miraculous well that accompanied them on their journeys. But things were about to change. Moshe charges the people, “Take care lest you forget the Lord your God….” Be careful, he is saying, that in the course of everyday life, you don’t start to believe that your food, your house, your possessions, everything you have is solely the result of your own efforts and intelligence. Ultimately, everything that is yours is a gift from God, and so the Torah teaches, “When you have eaten your fill, give thanks to the Lord your God.”
Food is important not just because it fuels our bodies and is a source of pleasure. Food is important because it can be a means to kedusha, holiness, when we take a moment to think about the source of what we eat, when we allow ourselves to be awakened to consciousness by the brachot we say.
So eat and enjoy — and thank, praise, and bless the Lord your God for all the gifts you have received!